Cancer survivors offer hope, advice

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Cancer survivors offer hope, advice

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Cancer-survivor volunteers at Seoul National University Cancer Hospital pose in front of the Cancer Information and Education Center on April 9. From left: Kim Seung-yeon, Park Sun-deok, Lee Byung-suk, Jung Jung-ja and Park Chun-suk. Two other volunteers, Seo Seon-mi and Shin Jae-eun, are not pictured. By Kang Jung-hyun


“Please use special shampoo rather than just a bar of soap to wash your hair because of the hair loss. Your skin becomes more sensitive due to the chemotherapy. Your hair will grow back after the completion of the cancer treatment - mine did shortly after my chemotherapy,” said Park Sun-deok, a 59-year-old cancer survivor wearing a blue hospital gown.

On March 17 in the chemotherapy injection treatment room at Seoul National University Cancer Hospital, a breast cancer patient surnamed Kim, 32, was unable to take her eyes off Park as she waited in line to receive an injection.

Park is a survivor of breast cancer. In April 2005, she was informed that cancer cells were completely removed from her body after a series of treatments, including a mastectomy, and she now a volunteers at the hospital to help cancer patients.

These cancer survivors have spread their message of hope to many patients. Since last July, seven breast cancer survivors, including Park, have been volunteering at the hospital and visiting different rooms, including the injection treatment room, to listen to the patients’ problems and discuss their anxieties.

Most finished their cancer treatments no more than five years ago, making these volunteers well equipped to provide pragmatic advice stemming from their own experiences to current cancer patients. This includes anything from providing information on healthy food to ways to relive pain arising from the agonizing cancer treatment. These female volunteers, of course, arrange a consultation with a doctor if any of these cancer patients need more professional, medical expertise.

Consultations with the patients are not always easy. Many turn away from the volunteers when they approach patients.

Park Chun-suk, 66, reveals her surgical scars left over from her mastectomy to female patients who refuse to talk. She said it is easier to communicate with the cancer patients when she approaches them first with her personal story, proving to them that she was also a cancer patient.

Seoul National University Cancer Hospital is on the frontline of this new trend in treatment for cancer patients. It is the first hospital that has permanently employed cancer survivors to offer consultations to its patients. And through word-of-mouth marketing, the hospital has attracted patients from other hospitals to do the same.

Above all, these survivors’ very existence can give comfort to cancer patients, who often have doubts about their survival despite the treatment they are enduring. Many of the questions that patients ask these volunteers include, “Can I also do this kind of volunteer work when I am cured?”

Jung Bo-ram, a social service worker at the Cancer Information and Education Center, said, “Cancer patients can gain courage by merely witnessing these cancer survivors doing active volunteer work.”

And volunteer Park Sun-deok agreed with the assessment.

“You can see their eyes light up with joy after hearing about some successful treatment cases,” Park said. “They just want to hear ‘You can make it, too’ from the cancer-survivor volunteers.”

And the volunteers insisted that the patients were not the only ones benefiting from the program.

“I become more determined to take care of my health after looking after the patients,” one volunteer pointed out. “I have received consolation from these patients, too.”

Together, the seven volunteers also passed requests along to doctors at the hospital that could help improve treatment for cancer patients who are under their care.

“Cancer patients are easily swayed by any word coming out of a doctor’s mouth. So please be more thoughtful and considerate to patients when you talk to them. This would do wonders to encourage them,” said volunteer Park Chun-suk.

By Lee Seung-ho [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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